Dead Meat

cast: Marian Araunjo, David Muyllaert, Eoin Whelan, David Ryan, and Amy Redmond

writer and director: Conor McMahon

78 minutes (18) 2005 widescreen ratio 16:9
Fright Fest / Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson

Well, this was worth the wait. First learned of at director Conor McMahon’s site nearly two years ago the announcement was followed swiftly by production and the Irish Film Board’s site verified Dead Meat was a go ahead. The production proved an ill omen for James Handel whose script of the same title was snatched from Prolific by Four Horseman only never to make it to the serious starting stage. Oddly enough, the two scripts had something in common. Handel (currently best known for his script for The Last Horror Movie) had a plot for his ‘Dead Meat’ that involved an infected water supply turning the locals into insane people turning on the rock band and its entourage turning up for a gig in some country venue. It was clearly influenced by George Romero’s The Crazies and so to would McMahon’s Dead Meat appear to be drawn from that source. The disparate group on an adventure on foot and by vehicle through a countryside scattered with the infected murderous locals clearly has the skeletal structure of that Romero horror classic.

Swiftly delivered to DVD under the new banner by which Fright Fest salutes surely this is a disservice to the film, as Dead Meat deserves a real shot at a theatrical distribution. I think it can be agreed that trite infamies are the best that can be accrued for the direct to DVD feature, whereas a promise to cinema screens engenders the necessary chatter that brings attention to the deserving. It is an assured feature-length debut for this young director and no comparisons or synopsis can spell out how successful he has been, you really will have to view it for yourself.

A new strain of bovine spongiform results in something better describable as incensed cow syndrome. The farmers are on the receiving end of the fuming cattle and the virus extends itself to the locals, a bite from cow or infected human rapidly turning the injured into the next hungry thing on the loose. The marvellous Irish countryside, County Leitrim providing the scenery, is alive with the crusty dead. They stumble but don’t dawdle, seeking out the few remaining uninfected in the district, and its not to invite them to a bit of colcannon. Intending on passing through are Helena (Marian Araunjo) and Martin (David Ryan), until their car hits a man (Ned Dennehy) in the middle of the road. They mean to do the right thing and take the body to the authorities but he returns to life and clamps his teeth into Martin’s neck. Helena seeks help but the nearest farmhouse is resident only to a corpse and tabletop of red maggots. Before you know it she is in warrior mode, as her Martin follows her having joined the locals in their new pangs.

A small band of survivors are collected together and one by one shorn down again. Desmond (David Muyllaert) is a young local man who is served well by his trusty spade during their battles with the zombies. A rotund little girl, Lisa (Kathryn Toolan) is the most surprising addition, no cute little child on board, but you are made to feel successfully sorry for her. Then there are Cathal (Eoin Whelan) and Francie Cheunt (Amy Redmond), he a particularly fantastic character, the actor clearly not beyond an adlib, but both players commendable. There are some leftfield considerations and observations in the script and dialogue. “They’re better off dead… wonder what’s going through their head?” Their response to besiegement in a stalled car by a lot of dead children in party hats is as real as it is strange, they simply repeatedly shout, “Fuck off!” at them until they do go away, our survivors uncertain if they were the magic words after all (they weren’t… like the terrified rats of 28 Days Later, there is something greater to fear). They occasionally forget their predicament, distracted by personal histories (“You used to coach me.” … “For about a week.” … “You were shite.”), or something that the tourist board might have asked them to throw in (“The abbey. Actually, Cromwell was one of the… never mind!”), but always to turn it into a sound laugh.

If the Americans had a problem with the accents and idioms of Trainspotting then they are going to caterwaul at Dead Meat, the makers proudly running riddling their film with local dialect. Compared to Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson’s first features, Dead Meat has sense not to aim to be as technically inventive as The Evil Dead, but sports an assuredness way above Bad Taste. The Irish Film Board was right to have faith in McMahon, but he is not alone due credit. Assumedly shot on hi-def, Andrew Legge’s cinematography is superfluous, catching action and vistas in turn, hillocks, grass, skies and busy maggots in unidentifiable sun-baked hide, keeping the film looking great. The actors are fitted out well with the clever costume designs of Leonie Prendergast, adding considerable extra layers of character. The makeup is flaky, but there is no cutting back in the horror effects department. There is a lot of eye damage. A scene between Helena and a blinded, screaming zombie in a barn is genuinely worrying as are the hoards of dead in the night as they advance on the dwindling number of survivors. Cathal takes to dispatching them in a manner adopted from the slaughter of cattle, having them herded through one by one for a cudgelling.

There are a number of disc extras. There is a director and producer commentary, production stills and a trailer, the latter of which I suggest fails the film. This is surprising given it only uses footage from the film. The trailer might be accused of shying away from the film’s character, pace and inventiveness. Mad Cows And Zombies is a 19-minute behind-the-scenes documentary by Katie Lincoln. It is as entertaining as the film, as the crew get lost in unfamiliar country, shop in dead makeup, and quibble over the catering budget. Gouda cheese would be nice… but… oh, yoghurts… “fucking luxury items,” they’re not having them. It is a wonder considering the problems that came with the five-week shoot that they returned with a film of such exceedingly good quality, but the principal behind the documentary is the same as that in the film, both from Three Way Productions and that is that only the good stuff gets in, and that the highlighted problems are being overplayed. There is a priceless shot of one of the sulky zombie children. You do ask how they were covered for having so many youngsters on location throughout a chilly night. I am sure the insurance didn’t cover it. The film’s premiere at the Horrorthon Film Festival, an event set up by the producers that took place at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin on “Friday, October the 22th” (sic!) is covered. There is also a clip from one of McMahon’s childhood amateur films, Day Of The Wolfman, a shot that one suspects, probably has an accompanying tale about the broken bedroom door.

Eoin Whelan is a potential cult figure as the coach. It is a character carried over from McMahon’s earlier short, The Braineater, which is another disc bonus, a film that won a prize at Sitges in 2001, the year it was made, bringing McMahon the original adulation. It is comedic, entertaining and unpleasant in an imaginative sense. Ned Dennehy is the title offender and not only is the hinted of cerebellum damage but a pencil in the eye during a car crash looks more than a little sore. Horror fans; seek this DVD out and spread the word.